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Ethan

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Does the future of education lie in bilingualism? Is it even possible?

Hi everyone, I have been pondering for some time as to the role of language in cross-cultural interactions. As a bilingual, I have had the privilege of conversing across cultures to try and understand people from different perspectives. To me, language isn't just a medium of communication; it is a passport that grants people access to cultural knowledge.

I am also keenly aware, however, that imposing mandatory learning of a secondary language on the masses will provoke resistance and discomfort. More importantly, it seems to me that most people speak and think in a master language; that is, the language that they use in daily conversations, and the medium from which they interpret the sciences and the humanities. In that sense, few people can claim to be equally fluent in 2 or more languages.

So it is both uncomfortable and difficult to introduce bilingualism/multilingualism en masse, which leads me to some huge dilemmas:

Should we teach all children 2 languages?

Do you think it would eventually result in some form of cultural erosion as one's original master language is less spoken?

Would we end up in some sort of grey area whereby many children who cannot cope with bilingualism retains no master language at all?

And finally, would a bilingual world be a better place? (Forget world peace, what about cultural diversity??)

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    Dec 3 2011: Interesting… just thought I would share a few points myself.

    No country has so far succeeded in getting its entire population to be bilingual while some have failed. It seems to me that the conventional wisdom that everyone can learn more languages without making sacrifices is, well, wishful thinking (no offence…!)

    There are all kinds of unintended side-effects that result from a bilingual policy. In Singapore, we used to have 2 language bases: one spoke Chinese dialects, the other spoke English. I grew up in the former, speaking Chinese at home while switching to English at school. Due to the unique language base we have, the mixing of Chinese grammar with English resulted in the creation of a colloquial English dialect – commonly known as Singlish.

    Also, the initial failure of our bilingual policy in teaching Mandarin (Mainstream Chinese) in the 1970s was attributed to Chinese dialects, and radical steps were taken to discourage the use of these dialects. In this sense, trade-offs were indeed being made. I have also heard of stories where elders who could only speak dialects could no longer communicate directly with their grandchildren because of that.

    Interestingly, even state ministers protested against the incipient steps of bilingual education. I think people were convinced of the need for bilingualism on an intellectual level, but emotionally, it was a different matter. (not to say that the emotional argument is of secondary importance)

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